Ukraine says 50 killed in rocket strike on rail evacuation hub

Ukraine said at least 50 people were killed on Friday and many more wounded in a rocket strike at a railway station packed with civilians fleeing the threat of a major Russian offensive in the country’s east, Reuters reported.

As regional authorities scrambled to evacuate the vulnerable, European Union leaders visited Kyiv to offer President Volodymyr Zelenskiy support and assure him there would be a path to EU membership for Ukraine.

Zelenskiy called the strike on the station in Kramatorsk in the eastern region of Donetsk a deliberate attack on civilians. The town’s mayor estimated that about 4,000 people were gathered there at the time.

Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said the station was hit by a Tochka U short-range ballistic missile containing cluster munitions, which explode in mid-air, spraying small lethal bomblets over a wider area.

“They wanted to sow panic and fear, they wanted to take as many civilians as possible,” he said, adding that evacuations by rail from the region, where Ukrainian officials are anticipating a new thrust by Russian forces, would continue.

Reuters was unable to verify what happened in Kramatorsk.

The use of cluster munitions is banned under a 2008 convention. Russia has not signed it but has previously denied using such armaments in Ukraine.

The Russian defence ministry was quoted by RIA news agency as saying the missiles said to have struck the station were used only by Ukraine’s military and that Russia’s armed forces had no targets assigned in Kramatorsk on Friday.

Zelenskiy said no Ukrainian troops were at the station. “Russian forces (fired) on an ordinary train station, on ordinary people,” he told Finland’s parliament in a video address.

Kramatorsk Mayor Oleksander Honcharenko said some victims of the attack had lost a leg or arm. “The hospitals are carrying out about 40 operations simultaneously,” he told an online briefing.

CONDEMNATION

The White House decried the “horrific and devastating images” of the attack which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in Kyiv with the head of the EU executive Ursula von der Leyen, condemned on Twitter as “yet another attempt to close escape routes for those fleeing this unjustified war.”

Ukrainian officials say Russia’s military is regrouping after withdrawing eastwards from the zone around Kyiv, where a forensics team on Friday began exhuming a mass grave in the town of Bucha.

The grave’s discovery last week galvanised the West into toughening sanctions against Russia and speeding up arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Since Russian troops pulled back from Bucha, Ukrainian officials say hundreds of dead civilians have been found there.

Visiting the town on Friday, von der Leyen said it had witnessed the “unthinkable” and that said the EU would do everything to support Ukraine in securing membership of the bloc.

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